Although we are still months away from the general election in November, certain political operatives in Washington, D.C. and across the country are busy working to impact voter turnout. Unfortunately, these people are not focused on increasing the number of Americans who cast their ballot; they are planning a systematic effort to suppress the vote and their targets are those voters already at risk of being disenfranchised: people of color, low-income citizens and the disabled.
The good news is that organizations like Common Cause Indiana and our allies in the All IN for Democracy coalition are also gearing up for the November election. We are working to educate the public about the many forms voter suppression can take because before we can address it, we have to identify it. That’s why we are excited to announce the virtual premier of a new documentary that not only exposes voter suppression but also champions efforts to combat it, including our own effort here in Indiana to end partisan gerrymandering.
The documentary Uncivil War was directed by Richmond, Indiana, native Tom Glynn and produced by the Bertelsman Foundation. The film examines our system of government and lays bare the risks facing our democracy. From disinformation campaigns to restrictive voter ID laws and gerrymandering, Uncivil War makes it clear that voters in Indiana, and across the country, are vulnerable to these attacks.
We were planning a big event in March to host the premier screening of Uncivil War in Indiana. Then, the pandemic hit. So, we’ve decided to hold the premier screening as a virtual event to enable Hoosiers across the state to access this important film about an issue with which we are all too familiar. To make a reservation for the screening, go to www.allinfordemocracy.org.
From the most restrictive voter ID law in the country to attempts to purge voters without notice, Indiana has a long history of using election laws and administration to suppress turnout in certain communities. Research by credible institutions show that both voter ID and voter list purging disproportionally impact voters of color.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 25 percent of African-Americans lack a government issued ID – the only permissible voter identification here in Indiana. And, purging voters from the rolls because of perceived duplications also impacts black and brown voters more than whites because of a prevalence of common surnames in ethnic communities.
But voter ID and purging aren’t the only tools in the voter suppression playbook; they are just some of the most obvious ones. More subtle but just as subversive tactics abound in our state. For example, numerous early and arbitrary deadlines prevent many voters from participating. For example, In Indiana the cut-off date for voter registration comes a full 30 days before election day. And, if you need to vote by mail, that application must be made no less than 12 days before election day. Additionally, Indiana’s 12-hour election day is the shortest in the nation.
Common Cause Indiana went to court to stop overt voter suppression in Marion County when we sued the Election Board because one partisan member – the Republican – blocked early voting at satellite locations after President Obama won the popular vote here in 2008. Before our legal victory forced the change, Indiana’s largest and one of its most diverse counties had the fewest early voting opportunities.
But perhaps the most enduring form of voter suppression is gerrymandering: manipulating political districts to favor a political party, individual or group. Gerrymandering is particularly pernicious because its impact is long term – districts are in effect for a decade. And, because gerrymandering takes power away from voters and gives it to mapmakers, it removes one of the most important reasons that people vote.
People vote because they want their voices heard. They want a say in their community. They want to be recognized as an equal voice in the decision-making process we call elections. But gerrymandering silences many of us, because we live in districts that were drawn to strongly favor one side over the other. So much so that in many areas of our state, the minority party doesn’t even bother to field a candidate; giving voters who don’t support the incumbent no reason to show up is the ultimate voter suppression success story.